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Bradford City fire: West Yorkshire Police refers itself to police regulator

Published 06/11/2015

Aerial view of Bradford City's Valley Parade football ground with smoke rising from the devastating fire, which killed 56 people
Aerial view of Bradford City's Valley Parade football ground with smoke rising from the devastating fire, which killed 56 people

West Yorkshire Police has voluntarily referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in relation to the Bradford City fire disaster of 1985, which left 56 football fans dead.

The force said the referral comes after a senior officer met with Martin Fletcher, whose father, brother, uncle and grandfather died in the Valley Parade blaze and who recently wrote a new book about the tragedy.

Mr Fletcher's book claimed that the fire was was one of nine that occurred at businesses owned or linked to the club's then chairman Stafford Heginbotham.

In a statement, the force said "serious issues" had been raised by the book relating to a number of agencies and organisations.

It said: "Since publication of Mr Fletcher's book, West Yorkshire Police has been working to identify what material was still available from the original enquiry and has found that, despite the passage of time, a lot of material had been retained.

"West Yorkshire Police fully understands that this will bring back painful memories for people who were there or who lost loved ones 30 years ago, but it is important that the concerns raised by Mr Fletcher are addressed.

"We are awaiting a decision from the IPCC on the referral."

Mr Fletcher's book overshadowed the 30th anniversary of the disaster earlier this year.

The official inquiry into the tragedy on May 11 1985, headed by Sir Oliver Popplewell, concluded that it was an accident and was probably started by a spectator dropping a cigarette into rubbish that had accumulated under an old timber stand.

The blaze ripped through the wooden structure in just a few minutes as Bradford City played Lincoln City in an end-of-season match, leaving many fans unable to get out.

Fifty-four Bradford City supporters lost their lives in the fire, along with two Lincoln City fans. More than 200 people were taken to hospital following the blaze, many with terrible injuries.

Bradford West MP Naz Shah said she welcomed the announcement.

Ms Shah said: " When I was approached by Martin to assist him in seeking answers, I could not turn away and ignore his quest for the many unanswered questions he had.

"I welcome the decision announced today by West Yorkshire Police to refer the action that was taken 30 years ago to the IPCC.

"It is only right that unanswered questions about the original investigation and process, which was conducted in great haste, are properly addressed - the victims deserve nothing less.

"The decision taken by West Yorkshire Police is a credit to modern policing that they are willing to be open and transparent."

The Labour MP called on Bradford City supporters and others in the city to support any new investigation into the events on the day and " the actions taken by many organisations both before and after".

She said: " We should also be mindful of the fact that this will not be an easy process for many of the victims' families and friends to have to deal with so many years later - their privacy must be respected."

Since Mr Fletcher's book, there have been calls for police to reinvestigate the fire.

But Sir Oliver Popplewell, speaking to the BBC earlier this year, said: "I think the conclusion that this was arson is mistaken.

"There's absolutely no need for another inquiry. I mean I think the police ought to have a look and get the fire authorities to have another look at these previous incidents and report. But I suspect they'll find nothing of any value."

Also earlier this year, a retired detective told a BBC documentary how officers investigating the disaster worked out who had dropped the cigarette which started the blaze but a decision was taken at the time not to release his name. He said the man has since died.

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